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The Bill of Pains and Penalties :: Crime, Scandal, Spectacle

The Bill of Pains and Penalties

From the beginning of their marriage George treated Caroline cruelly. (Parissien 210) Their two personalities were incompatible and the couple feuded for years. Exhausted by the continual strife, Caroline sought and was granted leave to travel on the continent in 1814. (Parissien 216) Caroline spent the following six years traveling and living anywhere but England. While Caroline traveled to the continent and developed extra-martial relationships all over Europe, George’s unpopularity at home continued to fester and grow. These relationships would form the evidentiary basis for the bill George introduced proposing his divorce from his wife. The German princess, although she lived abroad for many years, still enjoyed significant popular support from her adopted English people when she returned to the British Isles. In 1820, George’s father died, making the former Prince of Wales King George IV. Upon hearing of her new role as Queen of England, Caroline returned to the British Isles to discover that her husband’s unpopularity “automatically assured her considerable public support.” (Parissien 219) George was unwilling to allow the wife he detested to be named Queen; he was determined to divorce Caroline, whatever the cost. (Hibbert 147)

The King’s primary source of ammunition against his wife consisted of the contents of a “green bag.” The documents inside this bag detailed allegations of Caroline’s affairs abroad, specifically concerning an Italian called Bartolommeo Bergami (also called Pergami). (Hibbert 154) The difficulty in brining legal action for treason against the adulterous pair lay in Pergami’s Italian nationality. (Hibbert 154) An Italian could not be charged with treason against an English king. Rather, the King ‘anonymously’ introduced a Bill of Pains and Penalties, a “parliamentary method of punishing a person without resort to a trial in a court of law.” (Hibbert 154) The Bill, in flowery language typical of the time, essentially accused the Queen of an adulterous affair with Pergami. It sought to”deprive her Majesty Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of the title, prerogatives, rights, privileges, and pretensions of Queen Consort of this realm, and to dissolve the marriage between his Majesty and the said Queen.” (Hibbert 154) The Bill would officially “remove the Queen from the Kingdom and deprive her of her titles.” (Fraser 399) The Bill needed to pass through both Houses – the House of Lords and the House of Commons – before the measure would be enacted and the punishment enforced. (Fraser 399)

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